We ran into our across-the-hall neighbor the other day, which shouldn’t have been unusual as we live across the hall from each other, but neither Stephanie nor I had seen him in months. Just the way that goes sometimes. We converged at the elevator on the way up to our respective apartments and I noticed something different about him: he was wearing a Mets cap. I’d never seen one on him before. I’m pretty sure I’d seen him wearing some sort of Yankee garb, but not often and not obnoxiously, which is to say he never cracked wise about my own Mets stuff.
The Mets cap was one of those black-and-white numbers, the kind Shannon Shark at Mets Police  would call on the carpet for all kinds of crimes against good Metropolitan fashion sense. As he should, regardless of my neighbor being a pleasant sort, because it’s one of those caps the Mets offer so they can sell something to non-Mets fans. It has to be.
A real Mets fan might wear it if (like Shannon) his closet was bulging with Met apparel, but if you lived across the hall from a real Mets fan for three years and had never once seen him sporting any kind of Mets gear prior to this elevator ride, you’d figure there was something less than hardcore going on here.
I was thinking all that as we exchanged pleasantries. Stephanie probably wasn’t thinking that deeply on the subject. She just saw the curly NY and said the friendly thing to say:
“That’s a very nice Mets cap!”
Our neighbor smiled and thanked her. She asked if he was a Mets fan. Well, he said, in the sense that he roots for all the New York teams — which is one of those admissions that used to make me cringe mightily but he’s a nice guy and I’ve come to accept that sometimes people don’t care enough to definitively choose good over evil. Our neighbor, I thought, wasn’t the kind to worry about Johan Santana’s relationship with the front office  or David Wright potentially harming himself in the name of the USA  or whether Jordany Valdespin was going to remember to make every night Cup Night . Not everybody who pokes the bill of his cap into this thing of ours immerses himself. Sometimes it’s as simple as somebody offering somebody else free tickets to a game and that somebody else buying a cap while he’s there.
Sure enough, that was exactly the story with our neighbor. A friend of his wife’s works at a law office or something like that. They get great tickets for everything, so last year he went and had a wonderful time. The seats they had…what really made them great was you didn’t have to get up to buy food! They came around and brought it to you!
Not that long ago I would’ve had to have controlled my impulse to scream — you’re not a fan yet you’re getting the royal Metsian treatment and you bought the absolute least Metsian Mets cap you could find? — but que sera sera, I decided. It’s not like our neighbor was depriving a long line of dedicated Mets fans from sitting wherever this seat was. I don’t remember looking around Citi Field in 2012 and noting to myself, “It sure is crowded here with phonies.” It wasn’t crowded there with anybody. If our neighbor found his way to Flushing and enjoyed a couple of hours of recreation while, to his mind, supporting the greater “New York” cause, good for him.
That was my internal rationalization doing its best to block out my disgust that this happens, but it’s a great big world let alone Metropolitan Area. Besides, like I said, he’s struck us as a perfectly nice guy in our scant interactions with him since 2010. We could say the same for his wife (on whose head I had occasionally noticed a very discreet “NY” cap of the non-curly nature), though we hadn’t seen her in an even longer time than we’d seen him. We knew she’d been ill and that her car had been parked permanently for what seemed like ages. Stephanie and I hadn’t discussed why we hadn’t seen her, but we each had a hunch.
So with the Mets cap having opened up a long enough stream of small talk to get us all the way up in the elevator and out into the hallway between our respective front doors, Stephanie asked what I swore I’d been meaning to ask all winter, but I never managed to run into the guy until now:
How is your wife doing?
Oh, you didn’t know? She passed away. Six months ago.
This tells you how little we see of our neighbors and how incredibly uninquisitive we can be. That she’d been in the hospital for three months before passing away…well, we really do keep to ourselves.
Now we were off Mets caps and Mets seats and Mets food delivery and onto how much he missed his wife, how difficult it was to get through this at first, how he’s still coming along, how they were childhood sweethearts. It was a conversation I’m sure he’s had countless times since last September, so the words came easily, whatever the emotion beneath them was. For us, there was nodding and monosyllabic confirmation that whatever he was doing was “good…yeah…that’s good” and sincere if ridiculously late condolences for a woman we liked fine without ever knowing all that much. Eventually, there was a slow extension of “if you need anything, we’re right here” goodwill from me, though I’m thinking six months after the fact, our neighbor’s figured out where to go and who to call as necessity dictates.
Then we sighed, we smiled and we exchanged a round of “have a good evening” or words to that effect. Soon enough, he was in his home and we were in our home, and I’m pretty sure I had the MLB Network on before long.
Mets fandom comes in many sizes, many shades and — even with Shannon Shark’s best efforts on behalf of the orange and blue — many color combinations. I mention this because if you’ve never been drawn into the Mets Police orbit, you should know Shannon has released an e-book called Send The Beer Guy . It walks a very familiar  beat, that of what it’s like to be a lifelong Mets fan of the first degree, but Shannon brings his own engaging take to the task and produces a highly readable, not insubstantial brief trip through what the Mets have meant to him all these years. Some of it’s a little surprising, some of it’s very affecting. All of it is Shannon…and, as the author himself would be quick to point out, it’s only $3.99 for Kindle.
Since Shannon is one of my role models when it comes to effective/relentless self-promotion, my book, The Happiest Recap: First Base (1962-1973) is available on Kindle  ($8.99) and in soft cover  ($16.95) and you can arrange for an inscribed copy  via the Team Recap shop on eBay. Like Mets Police and Faith and Fear in Flushing, these books are quite different yet share a lot of the same heart. You’ll enjoy them both.
Besides, think how much you’re already saving by not buying one of those black and white caps.
One other quick book-related note: Faith and Fear reader Rob Livingston has a swell Mets library that his living circumstances dictate must be lightened. His loss can be your gain, as he has dozens of great titles of all vintages available at bargain prices. (I’ve already vultured quite a few from him.) Hardcover books are five bucks, paperbacks just one dollar apiece. You pay book-rate postage, unless you’re in Bergen County and want to pick up your purchases in person. For info on titles and anything else, you can get in touch with Rob via firstname.lastname@example.org.